Wednesday, March 15, 2000

Guest Column by Anitra L. Freeman

This is Anitra, Upon Whose Kitchen Floor Wes Has Sometimes Slept. Wes has a bad cold right now, which he says is my fault (because he's sleeping closer to me than the kitchen floor these days), and therefore I have to write his column for him.

Wes says I am starting out very well, staring at a blank white computer screen. He then gave me a tip to get started:

[insert column here]

Wes has just left the room, leaving me clear to talk about him with Cindy, Muse of Few Words. I ask Cindy, "I want to structure this column like Wes does, in the form that I have called a Wessitur: an apparent sequence of non-sequiturs that sneaks up behind a political subject and bonks it on the head. How do you suggest I start?"

Cindy says, "Say something about Wes now."

Wes was skinnier when I first met him (he also says that this is my fault, in spite of the fact that he does most of the cooking.) We were both homeless at that time, in October 1995. Wes attempted to teach me the use of acrylics, at StreetLife Art Gallery.

He still attempts to teach me math. I retaliate by singing sea chanteys at him.

Soon after I started going to StreetLife Gallery, Wes drafted me for the Real Change Editorial Committee. I retaliated by starting StreetWrites, to help more homeless and low-income writers develop material for publication. Wes said, "Okay, I'll attend, but you have to do the work."

How am I doing, Cindy? "At about this point, Wes says something else."

Speaking of something else, last week I attended the Seattle Police Department's first organizational meeting attempting to put together a Homeless Advisory Council. I was unhappy to see that I was the only person there who was a "community member" (still counted as low-income and formerly homeless) instead of a service provider or public official-- and I was only there because Timothy "Editor-God" Harris, Director of Real Change, was in production crunch on the paper. Tim made me feel a bit better by explaining that invitations did go out to SHARE, WHEEL & HOP -- but they went out very recently. Membership-driven grassroots organizations need more lead time to make decisions than top-down structured organizations. Adding in that the strongest memory most homeless groups have of such advisory councils is the sensation of having one's butt turned to rubber with the raised words "Whatever You've Already Decided" lettered on them, then pounded up and down -- and caution lengthens the lead time.

Speaking of caution, caution lengthened the lead time in the relationship between Wes and I. Within weeks of meeting each other we were spending large amounts of time together -- we were both officers of StreetLife Gallery, both writing for and editing Real Change, and we just hung out, because we made each other laugh, we sparked ideas for each other, I could say one sentence and he instantly knew what I meant, cutting my tendency to discourse at length and earning the undying gratitude of thousands.

But first, I was staying in shelters and he was Camping Out on Fern Hill (the exact location of which he still keeps secret in case he might have to use it again.) Then I got housing but Wes didn't; he could only visit me three nights a week at The Union Hotel, where he really did sleep on my kitchen floor, and we talked for several hours each night like kids at a slumber party. It was July 21st, 1997, at 4PM (I got the date and time from Wes) that Wes walked into the Real Change and handed his last pack of cigarettes ever to Tim Harris because I had mentioned that I wouldn't get intimate with a smoker's mouth. Then he didn't sleep on my kitchen floor any longer.

Speaking of lengthening, we were both divorced. Wes had a history of severe child abuse and suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had a history of relationships disrupted by my bipolar disorder (manic depression). We were both used to being prejudged, misjudged, and making bad judgments about others. A lot of reasons for caution on both sides. We're now regarded as the happiest couple in the Union Hotel, mainly because we come in about 3AM each morning laughing manically over such things as the application of the policy of Harm Reduction to late-night transit.

Maybe homeless people and the SPD will someday be cracking jokes together, working comfortably side by side, hanging out together. Also the physically disabled, and those with mental health / chemical dependency / developmental issues: other groups that the SPD is hoping to have new Advisory Councils for. If there's enough common ground; enough support; enough patience. If someone gives up their cigarettes, or whatever other habits are in the way.

How did I do, Cindy? "You left out poetry."

Haiku for Wes

He sleeps on my kitchen floor
while I check my email.
I need no Valentines.

Write On!
© Anitra Freeman 2002

Wednesday, March 1, 2000

Rocks Are Hard Dirt

I want to tell you all to stop controlling my mind. I tell you dirt is nutritious. You are trying to stop me from knowing that, by focusing contrary brain waves on my truth receptors. You are wrong to do that. Smart people like me, who read, know eating dirt is good for you. Ask any smart person like me who reads, like Jesus or Moses. (Moses used to read stuff on rocks.)

Did you know that rocks are hard dirt? Yes, it’s true. It shows you how much God loves dirt, that He wrote the Ten Commandments on a hard form of it. Praise dirt. (It is also highly nutritious.)

I don’t know if this has anything to do with dirt (?), but this week the Seattle Times reported that Kate Joncas, a human, said that establishing two hygiene centers downtown was “right”. She said that it can’t be good for a neighborhood “to concentrate that many needy and damaged people in one place.”

I agree totally with that, which is exactly why I steer clear of neighborhoods where I see too many television antennas on the roofs.

So I was very sorry to hear that Kate Joncas, also Downtown Seattle Association President, said she was sorry to have said what she was misquoted saying. Because it was so true. Homeless people and people like me who have been homeless are damaged. By homelessness! That’s why we don’t like it! “Duh!”

Speaking of duh, I’m reminded of the Third Man Theme by Anton Karas, which has no words, and was originally performed on a zither, which has a sound that is extremely difficult to reproduce vocally.

So when I “sing” the Third Man Theme, it sounds like this: “DUH duh duh duh DUH, duh duh, *dum dum*, DUH duh duh duh DUH, duh duh, *dum dum*, etc. What a great movie theme! It rocks!

So what does this have to do with dirt, you ask? Well long ago, between the first time I was homeless, and the second time, I spent four cool days in Vienna, or as I like to call it, the Third Man Theme Park. (The Third Man was a movie that was made in 1949.)

I went there precisely to see all the sights from the movie. I wanted to see the street (Stiftgasse) where Harry Lime (Orson Welles) was run over by a car according to the porter in the movie. I wanted to see where the porter lived. I wanted to see the Mozart Cafe. I wanted to see the Bahnhof (train station), I wanted to see rubble left over from World War II. I wanted to see a small scary man holding a puny dog.

And I did! It was great. It was all there, and I got to see it, all the while thinking to myself, “DUH duh duh duh DUH, duh duh...”

Well almost everything was there. There were no underground tours of the Vienna sewer system where Harry Lime (Orson Welles) took that fatal bullet from Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten). I really missed that, and I’m hoping that Vienna’s city council or whatever they’re called will eventually get with it and offer tours of the sewers, preferably with zither music piped in.

But all the best stuff was there. The high point of my trip was my visit to the Prater, where, on the ferris wheel, Harry Lime (Orson Welles) almost shoots Holly Martin (Joseph Cotten), before he finds out that Holly Martin (Joseph Cotten) has already told the police about him. While I was in the Prater ( it was very crowded, not like the movie, but at one point I passed a man with one leg who looked liked the balloon salesman in the film. I thought, “Cool! The Balloon salesman! DUH duh duh...” and then an old woman started shrieking at him in German.

She screamed how dare he appear in public where so many tourists could see him. She shrieked that he was disgracing Vienna and Austria by exposing his shame (his missing leg) for all the world to see.

At first I thought, “COOL! Anna Shmidt’s (Alida Valli’s) landlady!” Then I thought, “How wonderful it is that I live in a country where we don’t hide our damaged and disabled, where we actually do what we can to help our most injured to live full healthy public lives, where we care about people themselves and not about how they appear.“

That thought made my trip to Vienna the perfect fantasy! Thank you Vienna! Thank you America!